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A Bronx Tale
1993 - R - 122 Mins.
Director: Robert De Niro
Producer: Robert De Niro
Written By: Chazz Palminteri
Starring: Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Francis Capra, Lillo Brancato, and Joe Pesci
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Robert De Niro's "A Bronx Tale" is the story of a hard-working Italian-American man whose teenaged son takes an ill-advised interest in the neighborly Mafia figures. De Niro plays Lorenzo, a bus driver from the Bronx who works hard for a living and is perfectly content with his low amount of income, if only because it is clean. When he is offered a small Mafia job, he turns it down. The local Mafia kingpin is Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). "As I grew in age, he grew in power," says young Calogero, a.k.a. C, a.k.a. Lorenzo's son. In the beginning of the film, nine-year-old C witnesses a murder at the hands of Sonny, but doesn't rat on the man. Soon he is taken under the wing of the gangster, being thrust into the middle of gambling rackets and running errands of sorts. Lorenzo despises the Mafia and pleads with Sonny to leave his son alone. "They didn't speak ever again," says C, now seventeen years old (played by Lillo Brancato) and narrating the story. In a way, C suddenly has two fathers -- Lorenzo, who gives him good advice; and Sonny, whose advice is often times witty but not always the right thing. C is a confused kid, unsure of what to do with his life, hanging out with the wrong crowds. De Niro's performance as Lorenzo is the most touching in the film, because it is so true, and he displays the same caring side of all parents who want to give their kids good advice.

One of the movie's only flaws is the stereotypical love interest subplot, this time between C and a sixteen-year-old black girl who goes to his school. C is the only kid on his block who doesn't want to take part in racist beatings and he is apparently the only one, at the time, who isn't bothered with the blacks' presence on the street. What is so disappointing about this rather unnecessary addition to the plot is that it feels tacky, one of the only unrealistic moments in an otherwise grandiose motion picture. C steps over the boundaries of being a respectable character, brought up by a very wise father, to a downright stereotypical Good Guy, who appreciates the minority figures and is the lone voice in a large crowd of haters. I'm not saying that C shouldn't fall in love with a black girl, but the entire subplot is entirely out of place, unnecessary, unbelievable (there is absolutely no chemistry between the two actors) and, to be blunt, silly. Silly, and a major error on De Niro's part, because it tries to manipulate its audience and turn C into an unrealistic, open-minded guy -- the sort of character who would have never existed back then, especially under the influence he grew up in.

Oh well. The movie is still brilliant, almost perfect, aside from that superfluous subplot.

The film was written by Palminteri, based on his own one-man play from 1989. As Sonny, Palminteri proves that he can exhibit the same sort of oozing confidence that De Niro displayed as Jimmy in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," the best mob movie ever made, which bears a few resemblances to "A Bronx Tale." De Niro claims that in order to separate his film from others that have already dealt with the same sort of backdrop, he studied his own movies -- particularly those directed by Scorsese -- and tried to stray away from many techniques and ideas used in those movies. What De Niro delivers is an occasionally funny, occasionally painful, coming-of-age drama with guts. De Niro is right: these sorts of films have been made before, but in his directorial debut, De Niro proves that he isn't just one of the greatest actors of all time, but a gifted director with a stunning vision. De Niro's love and respect for New York City shines through in "A Bronx Tale," just about as much as his very obvious attention to detail and characters. This is one of the best Mafia movies ever made, even if it's towards the bottom of the list.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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